Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Midtown Madness - Milwaukee

We just got back from a nice vacation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  This was my fourth trip to Milwaukee and I find the weather dramatically different every time!  I still haven't been there in the snow nor do I ever plan to do so.  This time we witnessed a full-on Milwaukee rainstorm.

Now, living in the Seattle area, I've grown used to rain.  It rains, or drizzles, much of the fall through spring.  We don't get a "real" winter here as we may only have 1-2 snowfalls.  The rain is so standard that locals don't even comment on it... I don't even own an umbrella.  So when locals here comment "Wow, it's really coming down." then you know it's really raining outside.  Heavily.  People would have definitely commented on the rainstorm in Milwaukee.

It started with an overcast morning.  Diane said there was a red sky when she picked up Brad at the airport.  We looked outside and saw that another day of swimming wasn't going to work and all agreed to drive up to Kohler to visit the Kohler Design Studio.  I drove the rental van (a Kia Sedona) there with no problems.  We spent about two hours there and headed out to grey skies and fairly heavy rain.

We got onto the freeway, I-43, and headed south.  The rain was pouring down, thunder was all around, and the lightning was hitting all around us.  I continued to drive, albeit slowly, in the right lane.  The underpasses dipped down so I didn't want to pull under a bridge and park for fear of a flash flood.  I was getting passed by diesels and other trucks who continued to speed along at 70 mph while I slowed down to 55.  (I think the speed limit is 60 there.)  I stayed in the right lane and continued south.

Traffic significantly slowed down at each underpass, as people realized that they had to drive through standing water.  We made it through by watching the vehicles in front of us and allowing plenty of room.  As we approached a particularly deep underpass I realized that it wasn't moving.  At that point I was about ten cars back.  I actually stopped on the freeway and just waited, as all the cars around us stopped as well.  You could see the water rising under the underpass and the cars that got stuck, as well as the trucks that had passed us.  We waited about 15 minutes to see what was happening while I discussed with Brad the merits of not pulling up to the next car (and allowing cars from the prior freeway entrance to come in and cut in front of me) and the potential merits of turning around.  Keep in mind that the rain is still pouring down and there was a significant chance of getting flooded out.  The truck behind me started turning around in what can only be described as a 12-point turn, so I made a smooth U turn onto the emergency lane and followed him out.

The cars that had been getting onto the freeway braked and backed up, and traffic slowed to a crawl as people abandoned the right lane to allow the now-dozens of cars that were getting off the freeway.  We learned when we watched the news at home that the underpass had a blocked storm drain, hence the flooding, and that the people in the left lanes that couldn't get off the freeway were stuck there for over two hours.  I don't know what happened with the people who got stuck in the water.

We were now 15 miles from the house and had our trusty GPS.  It is amazing anyway, as it updates with construction and real-time traffic, therefore it was able to almost steer us away from flooding based on the stopped cars that create traffic.  We did almost get stuck 3-4 times and I had to drive through standing water more times I liked.  I am so thankful that we didn't get sunk in a sinkhole.

Eventually, about two hours later, we finally made it home.  The other adults wanted to go out to dinner (!) but I wanted to stay home with the children and eat there and not risk getting stuck somewhere.  It was already after 8 p.m.  I fed the children and got them to bed and I stayed up and watched the lightning.

It was a little nerve-wracking, very worrisome.  The Kia drove well and I have to say, if it had been my own van I would have parked in someone's high driveway and we would have been there until the rain stopped.  :)

The end result is that they had seven inches of rain in an hour.  One man died being caught in a flash flood and his car was swept away.  Two women were hit by lightning.  Hundreds of cars have been totaled for flood damage.  I'm glad we were ok!

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